Coho Salmon in Mendocino County

In Mendocino County, a scientist named Jennifer Carah was recently witnessed doing something that she is not known for, especially not while under water: She squealed. A recent snorkeling expedition in an obscure creek located along the North Coast recently caused her to abandon her normal demeanor for a moment of glee.

She found herself shrieking up through her snorkel, following the sighting of a mass of tiny little fish hiding behind a rock located in Pardaloe Creek. This remote tributary located along the Garcia River is located in heavily logged forests found in Mendocino County. Why did the critters elicit this squeal? Because the tiny little fish that she witnessed swimming in this remote tributary were the endangered Coho Salmon. In the Garcia River watershed, which comprises a total of 72,000 acres, these endangered fish were found in ten different places where they had not previously been seen in years.

Carah was obviously quite excited to have found them. As a field scientist for the Nature Conservancy, she has been checking data against other agencies, and had not heard any accounts of finding Coho in these areas before, meaning that the sightings of these tiny juvenile fish has generated a great deal of much needed enthusiasm, especially considering how close to extinction these little fish previously were. This is an especially eye opening discovery because the watershed where the Coho were found was previously destroyed by logging, but now it is a part of a unique sustainable forestry experiment.

The Nature Conservancy paid out $3.5 million dollars for a conservation easement that allows the property to be protected, allowing the Conservancy to conduct studies and to monitor the fish in the watershed. There was once a large American Indian fishing village on the Garcia River, but the land was cleared in the 1850s and 1860s, and by the late 1870s there were more than 12 mills operating within the watershed, eliminating the habitat for more than 500,000 Coho that once swam along those California streams.

When the clear-cutting of forests began on a widespread basis following the World War, because riparian vegetation removal and the addition of silt added to the creeks ruined their natural habitat, forcing them to move and killing them off in the process. Some fish, like many salmonid species simply moved to safer waters. Coho, however, are more sensitive to water quality and water temperature, so they were in worse shape than other species like the Chinook salmon. In 2005, their species was listed as endangered, and fisheries perceived a 73% decline in Coho populations during the 2007 and 2008 spawning season.

Pardaloe Creek is the highest point in the watershed, and has been surveyed six different times by the Department of fish and Game as well as the Mendocino County Resource Conservation District. In all of these surveys combined, not a single Coho was spotted. The Nature Conservancy has worked to build wood structures to create pools for fish in the streams, and during the first survey following this effort, the Coho were discovered. These are encouraging results, as they indicate that the forest management being practiced in the Garcia watershed is having a positive effect on the preservation of woodland ecosystems, their watersheds, and the fish that live within them.

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Originally posted 2008-11-12 05:00:49. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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